Biographical Non-Fiction posted April 26, 2015


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My Mother's Garden Will Live Forever

The Eternal Garden

by vkmack

When I was a child, the world in spring and summer was a technicolor blaze of greens and yellows and reds and purples. My mother was a modern-day Persephone. Her yard was a wonderland of plants, vines, trees, shrubs, and bushes--all of which bloomed to create a paradise that rivaled the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

This was not what one expected to find on a large, working farm in deep East Texas. But, after a long day spent tending cattle, chickens, and children, the mistress of this foliage had no desire to rest on her laurels. Instead, she planted them.

The rising sun awakened her Morning Glories, so aptly named, who greeted Apollo in various shades of blues, purples, scarlets, and creams, their delicate tendrils clinging tenaciously to the small columns of our porch. The box hedge nearby was more than three feet tall and lovingly trimmed, shaped, and braided into a brilliant jade Easter basket--handle included--with a crayon rainbow of Dahlias and Zinnias skirting it. Nearby were Lantana, mixed and mingled by "insectual inbreeding" to create delicate pastel bouquets of bold lavender, creamy butter, and pale fuchsia. Around the base of the Mimosa trees that dotted the large yard were golden Daylilies, maroon hearts beating in the early morning heat, grateful for the gentle breezes generated by passing butterflies in flight.

But, oh, that was only a small portion of my mother's triumph. Our large farmhouse was built on the site of the family's old sharecropping shack, and the original brick well stood near our living room windows. My mother had intentionally bedecked that structure in wreaths of Sweet William and Columbine plants, shining verdant green and royal purple in the sun. Wandering Jew zigzagged its way for many feet and turned the corner, where it encountered a patch of Wild Strawberries, which gently halted it in its path, for they had claimed the land centuries hence, and the mistress of the plants could not bring herself to tear them from their ancestral roots.

All over the sprawling yard, green grass and White Oaks called to her children on blustery spring days. The wind in the trees shook the leaves, making a sound like pompoms at an otherwise mute pep rally. Because Crimson Clover and Pink Shamrocks carpeted the rolling hills of the property, mowing was prohibited as we waited for them to go to seed, and the blades of grass would stretch toward the warmth of heaven until we could lie on our backs and feel almost--but not quite--concealed from the rest of the world within their embrace. Huge puffy clouds would drift overhead, staring down enviously at three little girls, anchored to that Oz-like Wonderland, our own Emerald City, where pixies lived in moist, post-rain fairy rings and former caterpillars waited for the next flight to one of a thousand Mimosa blossoms dancing on the breeze, so they could sip sweet nectar and shake the dust from their freshly formed wings.

Some of the flowers were, like the Morning Glory, circadian in their rhythms. The Four O'Clocks were aptly named. Yellow, pink, and red, they had held their positions against the front of the house for many years, where frequent pesky visitors had shaken off innumerable pounds of golden dust into their trumpets. Now, yellow blossoms appeared to have severe cases of the measles, and red trumpets displayed pink stripes. Visitors marveled at their timely appearance each day; one could set a clock by their punctuality. And their sweetness drew hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies from miles around. Large, moth-like creatures--the older folks called them "Tobacco Moths"--would hover over the trumpets, phantom eyes wide open on huge wings, and unfurl long, curly noses into the trumpets to drink deeply before helicoptering away. When they were gone, we would wonder if we had dreamed their visits.

Once in a great while, an aged Oak would surrender its life to torrential rains or torturous winds, and then it, too, would become part of my mother's garden. After having our uncle dismember the body for winter fuel, my mother would carefully cover the remaining stump with a Moon Vine. This lovely plant would soon blanket the carcass completely, making the space its own. And at night, the vine, true to its name, would present large, saucer-shaped, sweet-smelling, ivory blossoms that made us want to stay outside all night. These were especially prominent in the warmer summer months, when the Honeysuckle bloomed, and the two aromas would blend to create an almost sickening sweetness. Somehow, that alabaster lunar oddity helped lessen the loss of the mighty Oak.

Along the driveway that led to our house were several China Berry trees. These seemed exotic and out of place, even at our house. They produced a sort of frill--in leaf and flower. The greenery was angular, with an almost geometric pattern to it, as though lace-makers had been on hand during the creation. The same was true of the soft petals that danced on the wind. Sometimes, they would rain down into the yard, and we would succumb to the temptation to dance in the shower of lavender snowflakes.

And I cannot forget the harbingers of spring--always the first to bloom, always the first to fade. I still adore them, and they may be my favorite of all flowers today. Near the edge of the garden was a row of Daffodils. I loved their buttery heads, bobbing in the bluster of fading Februaries, signaling sunshine and an end to the wild harshness of winter. Their green scent seemed to bring forth the essence of magic, and they gave me hope when bitter winds still howled over the hill. When I saw them appear, I was reminded that the green things, with their smells and colors and energy and life, would return.

Interspersed amongst all of this natural and nurtured beauty were innumerable Rose bushes--red, yellow, pink, and even blue--for these, above all the treasure of her garden, were my mother's favorites. Some were climbers; some were petite; some were tea roses; some were antiques. My mother pruned and pampered, watered and watched, tended and talked to them all as carefully as she would each of her daughters. Her knowledge of her roses' aches, pains, and scars, as well as the necessary cures, was encyclopedic. Their scents, their colors, their stems, their needs--even their petal counts--were as familiar to her as were the stars to sailors on ancient oceans.

And that gardener was not miserly with her abilities or her successes. She shared cuttings with anyone who asked for them. Once, a history professor who had come to visit my mother for lessons in "The Way of the Rose" turned to me and said, "You must listen to her. If you don't, you'll always regret it." She was right. I tried, but I did not listen hard enough.

But others did, and they accepted her gifts so gratefully. Even now, some forty-odd years after her greatest glories, many of those prize roses continue on solely because she shared; she gave them new lives in new homes, where cuttings have flourished--and I see them often and am proud to recognize her work. I have come to realize, with pride, that her garden is eternal.

Today, my mother is eighty-three years old, so things have changed, and she no longer has that particularly magical garden on the rolling hills. In 2005, she had open-heart surgery, and, in 2006, she lost a child. She was forced to move to a smaller home with a less generous yard in order to keep her independence, which she refuses to surrender, in spite of the fact that she has suffered some severe losses that would have destroyed a lesser woman.

But, two years ago, while strolling in a nursery, we chanced upon a yellow rose bush--her favorite. She could not stop staring at it longingly, the way a former jewel thief might salivate over a perfect diamond. So, I planted the rose in her new yard. My mother gave it the little bit of love she could, but the weather was hot and dry, and it produced only two small, discouraging blooms. We kept trying with other small plants here and there, and, then, this year, the yellow rose sprouted and shot up proudly beside her porch.

She, thankfully, became excited.

Now, it is late April, and we have planted fifty gladiola bulbs, a red hydrangea bush, irises, daylilies, mandivilla, silver leaf, morning glories, chrysanthemums, and various other plants and flowers at the new place. The crop now includes six rose bushes, thanks to the efforts of other family members, too, and we are scouting for more. My lovely mother, though a bit contrary for a time, now has the beginnings of a new magical garden--another Oz-like Wonderland for honeybees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

I know they will find the mistress of the garden again--for her given name is Rosie.

It was meant to be; it is her gift to us all.

I love you Mama. Happy Mother's Day. Happy Gardening.

Thank you for the magical memories.


favorite gardens contest entry

Recognized


I chose to use a small t for Technicolor, because it is an adjective here, not a proper noun.
I have also taken a few liberties with words, such as "Insectual inbreeding" for pollination and "helicoptering" for the seeming ability that some insects of flight have to rise straight into the air and then fly away.
The story begins with my birth in 1961. It is a true story.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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